The Future Of: City Planning

Featuring Dr Nicole Cook

“The Future Of…” series asks a variety of UOW experts and researchers the same five questions, to provide insight into the potential future states of our lives, communities and world.

Dr Nicole Cook is an urban geographer researching the capacities of communities, residents, business and government to foster socio-ecological innovation in cities. She also specialises in qualitative housing research, focusing on the economic, cultural and political dimensions of owner-occupation. In 2016, she co-edited the Routledge collection: Housing and Home Unbound: intersections in economics, environment and politics in Australia.

What are you researching or working on in 2018?

In 2018 I am working on the 'frontier of densification'. This refers to those lower density neighbourhoods experiencing a transition to medium or high density housing. In this frontier, developers come face-to-face with residents who are attached to their homes and neighbourhoods. Many residents, like developers are seeking capital gains through the appreciation in value of their property. As owner-occupiers want to protect their own assets and neighbourhoods from over-development, local planning authorities are increasingly called upon to mediate conflict on the densification frontier. Understanding the factors shaping opposition to densification is therefore very important for compact city planning.

In regards to your field of study or expertise what are some of the most innovative or exciting things emerging over the next few years?

For a long time we have thought about planning conflicts as a result of the decisions of competing stakeholders, weighing up their viewpoints about urban change. In the future we will start to see these conflicts as a result of how populations become attached to particular urban forms through feeling, habit and emotion. If we can get a better sense of the ways that planning policies intersect with the lived experience of home, we can develop planning processes that better mediate urban change in environmentally and socially sensitive ways. This is important, not only in relation to densification, but with respect to other changes facing cities, such as urban automation.

In regards to your field of study or expertise what are some of the things readers should be cautious/wary of over the next few years?

It's important as we open out to new urban forms and technologies, and inwards to examine the behaviours of residents, not to lose sight of the goals of sustainability and equity in cities. It’s worth remembering that technology without social and cultural change can only achieve so much. For example, in many parts of the world basic technology like sewerage systems are not evenly available; so there is always a social dimension to technical change that hinges on political commitment. It is important to view all change with an 'equity' and 'sustainability' hat on.

Where do you believe major opportunities lie for youth thinking about future career options?

Opportunities for future careers lie in the social side of urban systems - how to manage large populations and the infrastructures underpinning this; developing virtual methodologies to bring residents and citizens into meaningful dialogue about urban futures; and balancing the interests of global and national developers with local communities and residents. Jobs in mapping and visualising vulnerable communities and new social groupings in diverse cities will also proliferate as our cities increasingly (and sadly) experience the effects of climate change (heatwaves, bushfires and flooding). Planning and policy roles also require a strong understanding of social –issues and urban trends. Getting a start during your undergraduate degree through internship programs can be important in building your experience and CV. So for instance in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, GEOG392 offers social science research internships with host organisations within the region.

In regards to your field of study or expertise, what is the best piece of advice you could offer to our readers?

It is a great idea to take an interest in your neighbourhood and national and global issues and events. Take your time to read beyond academic journals to get a clearer insight into the issues facing cities today, and from this, to envisage the work you would most like to do in the future. You can then take steps to incorporate subjects into your major and minor that allow you to develop expertise in areas you are most passionate about; and connect with social groups on campus to build your networks (and friendships!) in relation to those areas.

For more from Dr Nicole Cook you can visit her UOW Scholars profile, which links to her papers and publications.

You can also listen to Nicole talk to The Conversation on union ‘green bans’ & housing affordability here.